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Have you ever worked from home?

McKinsey estimates 20% of working age people in the US and EU-15 are participants in the “gig economy”. And if you’ve never worked remotely before it can be daunting. It’s not always clear where to get help, it can be easy to feel left out of “watercooler” conversations, and staying connected to your team requires different communication mechanisms that you may not have previously used. Sadly, too, some companies think that being remote-work-ready is simply a matter of having  everyone signed into an internal chat system and meetings take place via videoconference.

If you currently work in a distributed team but don’t have a set routine, here are some tips and useful reminders to optimize your work at home experience!

Create an office space to work from each day

It will help focus your work to have a dedicated space in which to work –– much like a desk in a traditional office space –– and it looks much more professional when you’re on calls with your team, manager or a wider audience. (The latter point may sound a bit silly, but remember: in a distributed team, people don’t have the same opportunities to get to know you well; those mini-impressions during video conference calls matter!) If you cannot create a dedicated room, try to dedicated a fixed location for work and treat that as your ‘desk.’

If you find you’re unable to work well at home for whatever reason, you may want to consider joining a co-working space. You’ll get dedicated space and some folks find that they are less distracted when working outside of their home environment. Not to mention, some people enjoy having folks around to interact with, have lunch with, or to pitch ideas to in person.

Set working working hours

Set your “core hours” for the working day and communicate them to your teammates and other stakeholders you interact with regularly. Working from home comes with a lot of trust and flexibility, but that shouldn’t mean you need to be “on call” longer than your actual working day!

If you need to be away from your computer, update your status on your chat tool of choice so that way people will be aware that you can’t respond straight away. Bonus tip: let folks know how to reach you after hours for critical inquiries. If something comes up, a quick note  on Viber/WhatsApp gets my attention even if I’m out running errands in the evening.

Respond to email promptly

Everyone is busy and people are often working on multiple projects or deadlines. However, not looking at your email leads to important questions not being answered or dealt with in a timely matter. Use common sense, but leaving mails not replied to for long periods makes you and your team look inefficient. Even if you don’t have the time for a well thought out answer, responding saying “I’ll take a look at this by $TIMEFRAME” is much better than no response at all.

Be online during your day

Every organisation uses different chat tools –– sometimes far too many –– so use the tool your team uses the most at all times during your work day. Make sure to use it for simple communications, to ask for help and also general chat. Most people appreciate pictures of your dog!

Bonkers Bash

Bonkers Bash

If you are in a meeting please mark yourself as away or busy. If you cannot be found, people’s jobs get harder and oftentimes it leaves your colleagues wondering why they have to go looking for you.

In companies where some people work remotely and others in an office, it can also raise the question of whether remote workers are getting things done. You can dispel these feelings by keeping your chat status updated and being highly responsive during your core hours.

Daily stand-ups are important

Having a daily team stand-up is a great way to stay informed about your teammates’ work.

Keep the meeting short and focused on any blockers people have that can be addressed quickly instead of waiting a week for a one-to-one with your manager.

Keep your calendar(s) up to date.

Your calendar is often the first tool people use to know where you are, especially considering how much travel is required for dev rel jobs. You can also use your calendar to let folks know when they are scheduling meetings past your working hours, so you can discuss whether they can find a better time for you or if this time you can accommodate a late meeting.

Last but not least, if you don’t have a team calendar, then make one. At a glance, you and the rest of the organization will know who is on holiday, who is attending an event, and glean a quick snapshot of the whole team’s commitments to meetings with stakeholders throughout the organization. A little visibility goes a long way to maintaining trust and rapport in all teams, and this is especially true in distributed organizations.

Be punctual to meetings

The sooner we start meetings, the sooner we can finish them and get back to what we’re working on. Being on time also means fewer meetings that run over time. Be respectful of your colleagues’ time and turn up on time!

Working well with others in a distributed team

It’s not just you who may be working in a distributed team. More and more organisations are now spread out over different time zones and with people from all sorts of different cultures. Try and always keep this in mind, whether its scheduling a meeting at an appropriate time for your colleagues’ time zones or not using idioms or slang that other people may not understand.

Appreciate and understand it’s not always possible to get all meetings done during core hours and there can be a need for meetings to start a little earlier in one timezone or finish a little later in another so that everyone can attend.

If you have a regular standing meeting at an inconvenient time for one team member, flip the schedule at least 25% of the time so that other folks on the team are inconvenienced, too. We are all in this together, so let’s share the challenges equally.

If meetings out of core hours are a regular occurrence, you should speak to your manager to work things out so that all of your team members have the flexibility to have a productive and reasonable day. You’ll have to make some compromises, but being able to, for example, nip out to the grocers in the middle of the day instead of trying to dash down to the shops before they close makes it worthwhile.

Follow Laura and Leslie through their LeslieLauraLive Twitter account.

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Laura Czajkowski

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Laura Czajkowski


Laura runs the developer community at Couchbase. She is an Open Source advocate and regular conference speaker who is passionate about getting people – everyone from primary school students to technology professionals – involved in Open Source communities both on IRC and in face-to-face discussions.

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